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The Week Ahead

Election 2012 Could Spell Major Policy, Personnel Changes For EPA

Posted: October 29, 2012

With the 2012 election just days away, Inside EPA brings you a rundown of some of the changes that are in store for EPA, what policies are likely to advance or be targeted for roll-back, potential candidates for top slots at the agency and how Congress is likely to react.

The Appointees

The jostling is heating up on both sides over who will be considered for top slots at EPA and other key energy and environmental agencies and how (or if) they will be able to win Senate confirmation.

On the Republican side, former Gov. Mitt Romney is drawing concern from some that his transition team is filled with former Bush administration officials at EPA and other top environmental policy slots, leaving little room for fresh faces.

On the Democratic side, some see a new nominee to lead EPA facing a tough Senate confirmation, prompting suggestions that current administrator Lisa Jackson, who many expect to leave the agency, may be asked to stay at EPA’s top spot, at least for a time.

The Candidates

If elected, Romney has said he would seek legislation requiring EPA to take costs into account when setting environmental standards, a significant change from current Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act requirements.

He has also promised to speed commercialization and permitting for promising clean energy technologies as a way to address climate change. He has also vowed to roll back EPA's vehicle greenhouse gas rules -- though few expect he will be able to deliver on that.

Similarly, some top power industry officials say they do not expect Romney to easily reverse EPA's already final power plant rules, though he could, if elected, more easily halt still-pending rules, such as cooling water intake regulations, wastewater discharge standards and coal ash disposal measures.

If President Obama is re-elected, EPA will likely have ample room to complete and implement scores of rules, guidance and other policies that have been delayed until after the election, including new particulate matter standards, greenhouse gas performance standards for new power plants, rules governing hydraulic fracturing, revised emissions standards for industrial boilers and cement plants, Tier 3 fuel and vehicle requirements, clean water jurisdiction guidance, cooling water intake standardsand many more.

But the agency will face hurdles, including continued concern from top administration officials that its rules may be hampering the economy. White House energy advisor Heather Zichal told the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) recently that if President Obama is re-elected, officials will work to adopt “the right” regulatory framework for the booming natural gas and oil drilling sector, reiterating similar remarks to the Natural Gas Roundtable that the White House will work to rein in EPA.

In her speech to ACORE, Zichal also said that if Obama is re-elected, officials hope to use his second term to revive so-far unsuccessful efforts to advance a transmission policy as a main pillar in the administration's strategy to advance both renewable energy and natural gas as an interconnected resource.

Utility representatives and trade group sources have simultaneously been reasserting the need for fundamental changes in transmission policy in order to take advantage of cheaper clean energy resources while building out advanced grid technologies needed to integrate larger numbers of wind and solar plants onto the grid to account for the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources.

Congress

Congressional Republicans are making it clear that they plan to continue their attack on EPA and its rules regardless of who wins the White House.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) last week issued a report listing almost a dozen rules and guidance documents from EPA that he says demonstrate the Obama administration's “imperial” approach to governing by sidestepping congressional intent.

Among the EPA actions the report identifies are agency efforts to regulate hydraulic fracturing even though Congress has exempted it from several environmental laws and it has historically been the purview of states; regulations governing greenhouse gas emissions without explicit authorization; and several guidance documents that exceed Clean Water Act powers.

And Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) is suggesting that he will work to block the suite of EPA rules slated to be issued after the election. Inhofe recently issued a report warning that if Obama wins re-election, “the Obama-EPA will have a very busy next four years, moving full speed ahead to implement numerous major rules and regulations that [the President] has delayed or punted due to the upcoming election,” the report reads.

Among the rules Inhofe targets are EPA's greenhouse gas rules, upcoming ozone standards, power plant requirements and pending regulations governing hydraulic fracturing.

One conservative legal advocacy group is already suing EPA in a bid to force the agency to release documents that might prove claims that the agency is deliberately delaying major rules until after the election.

In addition to the agency's rules being under attack, its budget is also facing a severe threat -- regardless of whether lawmakers are able to reach a deal during the upcoming lame duck session of Congress to avert the “fiscal cliff,” the combined effect of mandatory spending reductions, or sequestration, and expiration of the Bush tax cuts, which are slated to take effect at the end of 2012/early 2013.

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